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Preventing Diseases Caused By Ticks

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September 2005
Preventing Diseases Caused By Ticks

Q. Our family was on a camping trip recently in the North, and our son was bitten by a tick. A friend suggested that we seek medical help to remove the tick. It was an interesting experience with an HMO plan in a different State.

Tick-borne diseases in the USA include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever Relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever and some other rare conditions. They manifest after a tick bite in the form of flu-like illness and a rash. A rash that looks like small needle pricks on the palms and soles is called Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and is limited to the East coast. It has spared Alaska, Maine and Hawaii, so far. The wood tick is the vector (or organism that transmits it) of the disease in the Western States and the dog tick is the vector in the East states and the South. It does not transmit from an infected person to another. And usually, children between the ages of five to nine are most susceptible.

Muscle aches and body aches start after a week, and headaches are severe and cause nausea, vomiting and sore throat. The rash is a common symptom and it spreads to the rest of the body, often leading to toxic symptoms of shock. The ailment can only be confirmed through blood tests and treatment includes Tetracycline, although in children this may cause discoloration of teeth and Chloramphenicol may be used instead.

The other condition that is tick-borne is Lyme disease which is the most commonly transmitted of all such diseases. It was identified in the '80s and the main cause is a deer tick or the black-legged tick which attaches itself first to a deer or a mouse and then transmits it to humans. According to research, the tick takes at least 48 to 72 hours to infect humans. There is no evidence that Lyme can be transmitted by mosquitoes, flies or fleas. Blood transfusions also do not transmit Lyme disease.

In the North where you were camping the risk of Lyme is greater.

Stage I occurs seven to 10 days after the bite and is accompanied by a rash at that spot. The rash resembles a "target" sign and is a classic manifestation. The other symptoms will follow, including fatigue, muscle ache, fever, cough and swollen nodes.

Stage II is when these rashes multiply in number, the swelling of nodes grows and headaches intensify. Cough also can turn severe.

Stage III is characterized by severe joint pains and this is where it gets its name: Lyme Arthritis. Some other symptoms are paralysis of the face (Bells palsy), meningitis-like symptoms, heart blocks and inflammation around the heart.

A blood test is confirmatory, but treatment is initiated even before the test results are returned . The risk of transmission is minimal if the tick is removed in less than 36 hours. It is true that the tick must be delivered so as to remove the head of the insect completely and to minimize the risk of transmission of the infection. Treatment is cost-effective with Doxycycline or Tetracycline for two to three weeks. Other choices include Erythromycin, Ceftin and Amoxicillin. Late diagnosis may require antibiotics by IV, or hospitalization. Advanced cases may even need pacemakers for the heart.

The most important preventive measure is to avoid tick-infested areas if possible especially in the summer. If you must go to a high-risk area, it is advisable to wear long trousers, tucking shirts in, tucking the end of the trouser legs into the socks, using DEET for the skin and using bed nettings when sleeping on the ground.

As suggested earlier, removing ticks within the first 24 to 48 hours will help control the disease faster. The body of the tick should be grasped gently and vertical traction applied until it is removed completely. Blunt tweezers are recommended over forceps. There are kits to remove ticks, and must be a part of every camping list. Methods not advised are hot matches to burn the tick, covering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish, lidocaine, alcohol, or passing a needle through the tick. Your friends were right in suggesting that the tick be removed completely to avoid a large scar and a chronic wound.


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